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Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

Don't Get Blind Sided by a Car Crash

When black and whites cross paths, they can be at cross purposes with their mission: to preserve safety of the community and one another.

November 30, 2007  |  by - Also by this author

For years, State Farm Insurance has tracked the most dangerous intersections in America.

For officers, the deadliest intersection may be the one they're approaching with lights and sirens—and never more so than when another black and white is on an intersecting path with them.

The inherent dangers of such a scenario are obvious: Both vehicle operators are approaching the intersection with lights and sirens; each expects the other driver to yield; neither can discriminate between their own siren and that of another patrol car.

It's a recipe for disaster, and occasionally paths do cross with tragic results.

Unlike capsized stoves, exploding tires, and fluke traffic hazards that have killed other officers, it's a hardly a unique problem and there is no shortage of names of officers occupying the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial as a result.

Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Gregory L. Low and Dep. Charles Plumleigh were responding to a burglary in progress call when the patrol cars they were driving collided. At least one of the patrol vehicles was traveling at 90 miles per hour at the time of impact. Both deputies were killed.

Kelli L. Lambert, a police officer with the Wellston (Ohio) Police Department, was responding to an emergency call when her patrol car collided with another patrol car at an intersection. Officer Lambert was ejected from her patrol car and killed.

Baltimore Officer Anthony Byrd was a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Officer Byrd was en route to the station house when his patrol car was struck by another patrol car responding to a domestic disturbance call. He was subsequently transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Gary, Ind., Police Officer Benjamin Wilcher also succumbed to injuries sustained when his patrol car collided with another patrol car, this time during a vehicle pursuit. Again, it was an intersection that played a pivotal role in the collision.

It's not just our own we have to worry about. "Emergency vehicles" includes fire and ambulance vehicles, as well. A Georgia police officer died of injuries sustained when his patrol car collided with an ambulance while both were responding to a murder scene.

I've chewed ass on deputies that I've caught pushing the envelope. I recognized their inordinate pride in anticipating problems and having excellent reaction time when they occurred, and knew that these deputies were destined for rude wakeup calls in the form of traffic collisions. It wasn't piety that prompted me. No, I knew this because I'd been guilty of the same stupid, arrogant ignorance that found me over-driving, crashing, and getting my otherwise uninjured hand bitch-slapped.

Unless they're bucking for a duty-related retirement, officers rarely decide to have an accident. Usually, it's due to some unanticipated factor: oil on the roadway, a signal that changes sooner than they anticipated, and yes, the blind intersection that didn't allow them to see as far as they needed to avoid a collision.

Saying "these things happen" is B.S. There is never an excuse for an officer over-driving through an intersection and getting himself, another officer, or a civilian killed. And when ass-chewings aren't enough, police departments try other means of getting cops to drive more safely. This includes everything from sending officers to remedial EVOC training to raising the bail schedules for preventable traffic collisions.

Yet, I'm sad to see that these crashes still happen.

Our profession is dangerous enough without placing ourselves in further jeopardy. So the next time you roll code three through a four-way, make sure that the only things that intersect are the streets themselves.


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